ATF Gun Scandal: Holder Declared Hostile Witness Before Congress
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) declared Attorney General Eric Holder a "hostile witness" before the House Judiciary Committee as Holder testified about the botched gun trafficking operation called Fast and Furious run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Issa, who serves on the Judiciary committee, has been leading the congressional inquiry into the ATF operation as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa said that not all documents had been provided to his committee as investigators and he wanted to know why no emails to or from Holder appeared in the thousands of pages of documents that the Justice Department had provided to Congress.
"There is not one email that is yours." Issa said, surrounded by boxes of documents that Justice had provided to his staff.
Issa indicated that he might subpoena Holder and other top Justice Department officials to testify before his committee in January. Holder said that the Justice Department has provided unprecedented information to Congress, and that he would consider the request to appear before Issa's committee.
Toward the end of the hearing, Issa indicated that if Holder and the Justice Department did not provide a solid legal basis as to why they could not produce certain documents, Holder could be held in contempt of Congress.
Issa disagreed with Holder's answer, and said, "John Mitchell responded the same way," referring to President Nixon's former attorney general who had been sent to prison for his involvement in Watergate.
Holder took offense and asked the California congressman, "Have you no shame?"
In his prepared testimony, Holder called Fast and Furious "inexcusable" and said the operation run by the ATF made use of "misguided tactics."
"This project was failed and flawed from the beginning," Issa said. "Mr. Attorney General, the blame has to go to your desk."
Congress had been investigating Fast and Furious and how ATF ran the gun trafficking operation that resulted in a reported 1,800 firearms flowing into Mexico. Two were found at the scene of the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed by Mexican drug smugglers on Dec. 14, 2010.
Testifying today, Holder said that the operation had been organized by ATF in Phoenix and did not originate out of Washington or from orders out of the Justice Department headquarters.
Holder and top officials had been grilled by Congress over an inaccurate part of a letter sent to Congress about Fast and Furious. In a Feb. 4, 2011, letter sent to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich wrote, "ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico."
The Justice Department formally withdrew the letter last week due to the statement and released a series of internal documents showing how the letter was crafted with input from officials at the U.S. Attorney's office in Arizona and ATF officials.
"Documents demonstrate that department personnel relied on information provided by supervisors from the components in the best position to know the relevant facts. We now know that some information provided by those supervisors was inaccurate," Holder testified today.
The congressional investigation and ATF agents who blew the whistle on the controversial tactics used in Fast and Furious have shown that the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona and ATF officials knew that guns were allowed to walk into Mexico as part of the operation.
"Although the department has taken steps to ensure that such tactics are never used again, it is an unfortunate reality that we will continue to feel the effects of this flawed operation for years to come," Holder said in his prepared testimony.
Besides Agent Terry's death, the guns have been traced to deaths in Mexico and to more than 40 crimes in Arizona.
Under questioning from Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), Holder acknowledged that others could be killed with guns linked to Fast and Furious.
"I think that's unfortunately true," Holder said.
"I think some heads should roll," Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) told Holder who also echoed calls by Grassley IA) for the head of the Justice Department's Criminal Division to resign over the scandal. Sensenbrenner also indicated that Holder or other officials could be impeached over the scandal for providing inaccurate statements to Congress.
Holder also faced continuing questions about the accuracy of his statements as to when he first learned about Fast and Furious. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in May, Holder said at the time that he had first learned about Fast and Furious in the past few weeks.
Today Holder said that he became aware of the operation sometime in the beginning of 2011 around the time of the inquiry from Grassley.
After learning about the tactics used in Fast and Furious and getting some conflicting information from media reports and congressional inquires, Holder said that he had directed the Justice Department Inspector General to conduct a formal inquiry.
The Inspector General's review is expected to be released sometime early next year.
Despite calls from some members of Congress for his resignation, Holder said Thursday that he had no intention of resigning over the Fast and Furious controversy.